By Abigail Loop
The fall season has arrived and with it a traditional food item that shows up on porches, in coffee and in pies – pumpkins.
Dr. Suzy Weems, professor of nutrition sciences, said the pumpkin is a great food for healthy eating but with all the hype it gets this season, pumpkin’s nutritional value is often diminished in cakes, pies, and the popular pumpkin spice latte.
“The pumpkin is actually very high in fiber and phytochemicals, which have health-promoting functions,” Weems said. “Overall, it’s a fairly low-calorie food and they are high in vitamin A and have several of the B vitamins as well. However, it’s important to look carefully at the difference between pumpkin and pumpkin flavor.”
Weems said the dairy in the pumpkin spice latte, if 2 percent milk is used, is healthier than the flavored pumpkin in the drink.
The sugar and flavor added take away from the health benefits of the pumpkin in the beverage.
“Pumpkins still add something, an additional nutrient, to food but other things that are added such as sugar, flour and flavor bring the amount of nutrients from the pumpkin down,” Weems said.
According to the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service, the state’s farms harvested a record of 16,200 acres of pumpkins in 2012, most of which were used for canning and cooking. Starbucks also said in a press release that the pumpkin spice latte drink is the most popular choice for its fall season rotation. The company has had more than 200 million pumpkin spice latte sales since.
However, the calorie count in a pumpkin spice latte with 2 percent milk comes out to 380 calories and 49 grams of sugar, according to Starbucks’s nutritional report.
While a pumpkin itself only has 30 calories in one serving, the added flavoring and sugars add to the problem with this holiday treat.
Kristin Jack, associate pastor at Central Christian Church in Waco, home to a pumpkin patch, said the increase in pumpkin sales all comes down to tradition.
Jack said the church’s pumpkin patch opens every fall season and sees thousands of Waco families come each year to buy pumpkins for their holiday carving materials and ingredients.
“I think it’s the changing of the weather and the chance to celebrate the holidays,” Jack said. “People use them for carving, decorations, and eating. It’s taking part in a tradition with family and friends.”
Weems agreed with Jack and said the reason the pumpkin gets turned into so many snacks during the fall season is because of societal traditions.
“It’s not uncommon to see on old TV shows a family baking a pumpkin pie and fairs having pumpkin carving contests,” Weems said. “It’s a traditional thing.”
Weems said her advice for people taking part in the traditional pumpkin craze this season is to try to eat the pumpkin naturally or baked.
By eating just the pumpkin itself, people can not only eat healthier but also take part in the fall tradition.
“Eating just the pumpkin will result in lower calories, and even making pumpkin bread or cooking the pumpkin as it is would be good,” she said. “Overall, it’s a great food and it’s a lot of fun to use.”